Sam Gammie, seen here in action for Eketahuna, will be part of the Wairarapa-Bush starting lineup on Saturday. PHOTO/FILE
Caution has been thrown to the wind in the naming of the Wairarapa-Bush team for their Heartland Championship match with Buller in Westport on Saturday.
Head coach Joe Harwood and his assistant James Bruce have reacted to the defensive frailties which led to the 60-24 thumping by Mid-Canterbury in Masterton last weekend by plumping for a starting lineup which they believe will address those issues through a lift in energy and intensity.
“We were really pleased with the impact made by the bench last Saturday and we’ve rewarded some of those players by giving them a start this time round,” Harwood said.
“It’s good for them and hopefully it will be even better for the team.”
Up front, the big surprise is the dropping of experienced lock Andrew McLean to the reserves in favour of Sam Gammie.
Gammie is no stranger to the middle row but has played most of his rep rugby as a loose forward.
It is a huge call on two counts as McLean is invariably the “go to man” for Wairarapa-Bush at lineouts and is often the first cab off the rank when attacks are launched through rolling mauls or short passing rushes.
Harwood said the preference for Gammie on this occasion was based around the impression he made off the bench against Mid-Canterbury.
“He was very straight and very direct and offered plenty on attack and defence.”
Without McLean, however, Wairarapa-Bush will start with a lineout which has only Lachie McFadzean as a specialist jumper, and that risk factor is compounded by the naming of Wellington ‘import’ Sosaia Tufui for his first start at hooker.
He replaces James Pakoti, who is in the reserves, and his throwing skills will be put to the test in what is a crucial ball-winning department, a sentiment with which Harwood agrees.
“Yes, we won’t have a lot of height by heartland standards but that just means we have to be smarter and more innovative, and that’s the plan,” he said.
“It does put extra pressure on the thrower and the jumpers but we’re confident they’ll do a good job.”
Just how Wairarapa-Bush will cope in the other important set piece, the scrum, will be of considerable interest too in the early exchanges as with McLean missing from lock and the loose forward combination being rejigged to allow for Epeli Rayaqayaqa to start on the openside flank, Buller is likely to have a decent weight advantage.
Rayaqayaqa’s selection is certainly deserved on form but he does not have anything like the bulk of the player he replaces, Tavita Isaac.
The latter started at No 8 against Mid-Canterbury but Brendan Campbell will wear that number in Westport and skipper Eddie Cranston will be on the blindside flank.
Concussion means fullback Sam Monaghan will be missing from the Wairarapa-Bush squad for the next three games and his absence sees Tipene Haira moved there from the wing.
That vacancy will be taken up by Nikora Ewe, who has recovered from the injury which kept him out of the Mid-Canterbury game and Cyrus Baker retains the second-five berth after being given the all-clear from a head knock suffered last weekend.
Wairarapa-Bush team: Tipene Haira, Nikora Ewe, Robbie Anderson, Cyrus Baker, Corey McFadzean, Tim Priest, Piri Weepu, Brendan Campbell, Epeli Rayaqayaqa, Eddie Cranston, Lachie McFadzean, Sam Gammie, Nick Hohepa, Sosaia Tufui, Jayden Mason. Reserves: James Pakoti, Gerard Fatotoi, Andrew McLean, Chris Raymond, Tavita Isaac/Matt Kawana, Inia Katia, Soli Malatai.